#musicamondays #MusicMondays (50)

Welcome to the 50th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

Woo hoo! 50… man… that’s worth celebrating!

Also, in honor of my travel plans to and through Ethiopia, I bring you some really fun tunes from Dina Anteneh in Amharic. Ok, I have to also admit that I love this video because I’m about 99% sure it was shot near the Patent & Trademark Office in Arlington, Virginia, which is the randomist place to shoot a music visit. But, I mean, try not to dance. Really… I dare you…

Swaziland’s Reed Festival, Feminism, Monarchy and other Africanisms…

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P1090220.jpgSince I moved to Mozambique, I had heard that travel in neighboring countries was one of the best advantages of adopting Maputo as home. And since I’d started traveling outside of Maputo, I had heard that one of the most fascinating cultural experiences in the region was Swaziland’s Reed Festival. In layman’s terms, it is an annual festival where all the girls and women in the Kingdom of Swaziland dance and sing for the royal family, in the hopes of being chosen as the King’s next wife. Yes, I said “next.” The current King has 14 wives and each year that he is alive he is able to choose another.

My human rights and feminist mind said this would be a sad festival to witness. After all, Swaziland is Africa’s last absolute monarchy and “King Mswati III has ruled the small country with its one million inhabitants since 1986. In 1973, Mswati’s father Sobhuza II banned all political parties and declared a state of emergency, which is still in place today. The king governs the country’s 55 administrative divisions, known as Tikhundla, through its chiefs.” According to avert.org, Swaziland has the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world, with 27% of their 15-49 age population infected with the deadly virus. “Heterosexual sex is the main mode of HIV transmission in Swaziland – accounting for 94% of all new HIV infections… In the context of the entire population, 31% of all women are living with HIV, compared to just 20% of men.”

So, what exactly did this festival promote? Traditionalists said it continued centuries old practices that insured clan linkages and promoted population growth to ensure ethnic survival. How could that be relevant in the context of contemporary realities? Democracy and political participation are non-starters, deadly STIs and STDs plague the country, polygamy remains prominent and partially explains the disproportional prevalence rate in women (42% of pregnant women are said to have the virus) , 63% of Swazis lives below the poverty line, and life expectancy is 48 years old.

I went in with an open mind. I knew that to most outsiders’ gaze this would be just a chance to see topless women or a condemnation of Swazi’s “backwardness” in the face of all the above, but for me this was an opportunity to see contemporary Africans performing and preserving what they considered to be an important cultural practice.

 

What I found was a mixed bag of emotion and observation, culminating in extreme gratitude. First, it’s important to know that the festival goes by multiple names, Umhlanga (officially), Reed Festival or Reed Dance. The festival is about 8 days long and it’s never the same dates each year. It’s typically at the end of August, but no one really knows until much closer to the date when the Royal Family announces the festival dates. The open space at Ludzidzini Field, the Queen Mother’s land, becomes the stage for scores of childless, unmarried, (I believe also virgin) girls and women dressed in traditional clothing, but bearing their breasts.

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Second, in the sequence of the dates of the festival, I visited on Day 6 and all photos here were taken from that small component of the entire event. We arrived at the field around 3pm to find that many of the dancing groups had already assembled and were making their way through the arena. The girls were jubilant and seemed to be having a really great time. As most people note that Swaziland is pretty boring most times of the year (except for Reed Dance and Bushfire), it came as no surprise that these young ladies were just enjoying the excitement of being together, dressing up and having something to do.

Since Swazis speak English it was a photographer’s dream! I asked them if I could take their picture before doing it and they all obliged. Some really enjoyed being the center of attention, posing in groups and staging themselves.

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Last, we left early to get back before dark. The drive from Swazi’s Ezulwini Valley to Maputo is about 3 hours, there are no street lights and Day 6 fell on a Sunday. Leaving after only an hour and a half felt like peeling myself away from something great that was just beginning to erupt. The press started to come and shoo us out of the way. More people started to arrive, including an aggressive group of Indian men who looked way too excited to be there for the festival’s intended purpose and seemed focused on a field full of breasts (…just the kind of creepy guys I expected might be drawn to such an event). More fashionable African women started to come too. Their breasts were covered, though they wore fashionable elements incorporating their traditional fabric (with the face of the King or the royal shield) with modern hipster jeans and sneakers.

As I left the festival with my 3 travel companions, we all walked away with different feelings. I was excited for having been able to take such interesting and intimate photos. My husband was sad realizing how young most of the girls were and constantly being reminded of the event’s purpose. One friend was excited to be back in Swaziland after having been gone since high school. He remembered places, recalled words and practiced recalling what he knew of Swazi. And his girlfriend observed, enjoyed and shared in the colors and styles of the fashion inspiration. So, we all left with our expectations shifted and perhaps a lot of food for thought, in all kinds of directions.

Turns out the festival is less about selecting a new wife for the King and more to “preserve the women’s chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together.” For me, it was one of those rare opportunities to see African people living their culture without caveats. There were no explanations or excuses, just Swazis being Swazis as they saw fit. While they spend the rest of the year shuffering and smiling, surviving in the face of historical and actual challenges, this festival felt like one of the few times they got to live out some form of vanity and celebrate themselves… in all their glory.

I was thankful to be able to catch a glimpse.

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Photos are the author’s own. Please request permission to reproduce elsewhere.

 

 

Indian Ocean Boatlife!

Ok, so I actually thought I might die on the speedboat ride to Portuguese island and Inhaca, but we made it to both islands safely and they were absolutely gorgeous. I hung out with good friends, ate good food, and learned that starfish come in all shapes, sizes and colors! Since words wouldn’t describe both the fun and the fear, let’s let the flix do the talking.

Photos are the author’s own. Please request permission to reproduce elsewhere.

In Living Colour

I know it happened a few weeks ago, but I went to the Color Run…though in SA I think they really spell it British style with that silent ‘U’ – Colour… any whoo….

One of the best things about living in Southern Africa is South Africa. They say things like “shame” and “now now,” which in American vernacular means “Aww darn” and “as soon as possible, hopefully today, inshallah before the sunsets, God willing and if the Levies don’t break.” One great thing that South Africa has is the great outdoors. There are safaris and treks through the mountains and sea views. Closest to our side of the border in a town called Nelspruit, this girl walked her first 5k in about 7 years. Oh, did I mention that we threw colors on each other the whole way? Ok, well that happened and here’s what it looked like:

If every 5k I walk is this much fun, I just might be enticed to do it more often! To learn more about the Color Run nearest you, see here for the US and South Africa.

Photo and balloon styling credit to the man of the Tembe house.

 

 

#musicamondays #MUSICMONDAYS (37)

Welcome to the 37th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

These good vibes have a whole history that is stranger than fiction. This song is a Jack Wilson, remake of a Louisa Mark classic British lover’s rock tune. Ok, so why is this odd? Well, my whole mind just got blown reading up on these artists, so maybe you will share in this amazement.

Ok so, Jack’s full bio is here, but in short he was a jazz pianist from the MidWest (USA), he did hit Atlantic City in his lengthy career, but was primarily Chicago based – when he wasn’t in the Army. Louisa, however, was a British singer that went by the name “Markswoman” (how badass is that). She was born to Grenadian parents and grew up in London. Apparently, Black Britain (aka South London)  had it’s own lover’s rock movement – who knew? – and she was a mega star. In any case, somehow she moved to Gambia and that’s where she died – of either poisoning or a stomach ulcer (Maybe both?) in 2009. Again, mind blown… this song is fire, as is all the talent that went into making the original and remix of 6 Six Street…

May your Monday be merry!

 

#musicamondays #MusicMondays (35)

Welcome to the 35th installation of #musicamondays #MusicMondays, which features music from around the globe. Each song is selected to start your week off on the good foot! One still in the bed and the other in another country…

This week’s tune is from musician Gin Wigmore hails from New Zealand. She’s got a weird Amy Winehouse meets Lady Gaga meets Janis Joplin thing going on. In any case, I hope this gives you wings… all week long!

Enjoy your day!

 

 

Eat Your Heart Out!

 

IMG_1323One of the highlights of traveling home is, and has always been, gorging on grub, as my travels took me to, through, and around restaurants I loved. So, here’s a brief culinary summary of my 2 week visit home. Hope you all enjoy – visually – my gastronomical exploits…

It all started on the South African Airways plane. My veggie food was pretty yummy, but these mini Tangueray bottles took the entire ride over the top. I have to say that gin & tonic on a plane pairs well with the entire ride.

Then in the great state of New Jersey, an amazing medley of home cooked meals, American processed treats, awesome restaurants and food gluttony occurred. I’m sure, for those of you who live in the U.S. full time, Chips Ahoy cookies with M&Ms in them is nothing to write home about. But, when you live in Africa… I think you get the point. In short, as per below, you can see that I partook in South African wine, Mexican Fish Tacos and beer (only right to honor what should be a world holiday – Cinco de Mayo) at 2 different establishments (the Above Restaurant in South Orange and Red Cadillac in Union), and the best pizza in the whole damn state! There were also (unphotographed) home cooked meals of fried fish, cornbread, collard greens and sweet potato pie made by my grandma, and spaghetti and salmon made my mom. The thought of them will keep me homesick for months.

 

Then, the travels went north(ish) to New York City – the city so bad they named it twice. I popped into the city for a dinner that consisted solely of Key Lime Pie from Bubba Gump Shrimp, but then I had a morning meet up with a professor and mentor that I love dearly. We ended up heading over to the City Kitchen in Midtown, where I had a pancake breakfast at Whitman’s (sadly with Kraft syrup instead of God’s gift to breakfast – Grade A Maple) and fought off the impulse to try every variety of donut produced by Dough. It was tough to resist hibiscus donuts, but my thighs thanked me. And, I had a home cooked Jewish breakfast of bagels with lox and egg frittata with family friends, as well as a boozy brunch at yet another Mexican restaurant, Agave (unphotographed).

Last but not least I headed south to our nation’s capital. With so much political stankness in the air, it was great to find something apolitical to enjoy in the DMV.

I had lunch with a friend at Founding Farmers near Farragut West, where we proceeded to spend $22 a glass on King Estate Pinot Noir from Oregon, which the Vivino app says costs about $24.80 per bottle.  Yea, total rip off. But the food was decent and the restaurant is well located… its greatest highlight.

There was an entire ice cream experiment at Cold Stone Creamery, which ended with my stomach and my tongue rejoicing in perfect harmony. And  I had yet another delicious order of fish tacos at District Taco in Dunn Loring – yummy. Oh, a regular trip fave, was Ginger Salmon at a Vietnamese restaurant in Pentagon City, Saigon Saigon. My stomach is growling just thinking about all these yummy reunions, as well as two trips to Red Lobster with friends (unphotographed) and frequent visits to Starbucks for coffee drinks with non-dairy milk – oh, so rare here on the continent.

All told, while I love the food, what I miss most about being home is the people. These delish meals were a backdrop to meet ups, family gatherings, mentoring and catch up sessions that were long overdue. In just 2 weeks, I ate fish tacos at three different places and not a single loved one judged me for it. That’s what foodie reunions are all about!